Metal screeched against metal as lasers scorched the air. Green and orange fireballs careened into lines of blank-faced robots, turning them into smoking piles of twisted wreckage.
A boy in a cape yelled as he slashed his sword through a trio of the things, trying to make his way towards the stadium doors, where another swordsman dueled a muscle-bound figure in a blood-red flight suit.
“EMERGENCY PROTOCOLS. EVACUATE THE STADIUM.”
A metal hand closed around the caped fighter’s wrist, and he turned to sever it with his blade. A muffled choking drew his attention, and for a moment he caught a glimpse of red hair above a bloodied face. Then another wave of robots swept him away.
“EMERGENCY PROTOCOLS. EVACUATE THE STADIUM.”
With a wordless cry of rage, he threw himself back toward the stadium, decimating entire squads of the faceless metal constructs with his dancing blade. A firm hand grasped his shoulder and pulled him away. He whirled to face the owner of the hand, and was confronted with a stern frown set under the visor of a crimson helmet.
“This is my fight,” the frowning mouth said. “Hold off the hordes, will you?”
“EMERGENCY PROTOCOLS. EVACUATE THE STADIUM.”
The helmeted fighter leaped over a few of the robots and dashed towards a crowd of them gathering around the stadium entrance.
“Falcon PUNCH!” Pieces of robot went flying every which way. Then he was into the stadium, and out of sight. A few seconds later something hit the wall inside the stadium, and shortly after there was an audible crunch.
“EMERGENCY PROTOCOLS. EVACUATE THE STADIUM.”
A rushing sound filled the caped swordsman’s ears as he finished off the robots with the help of his friends. He reached the body of the red-haired fighter, and tears joined the rage streaming from his eyes.
“…PUNCH!” everyone heard, screamed from behind the stadium’s closed doors.
The rest of the Brothers gathered as they waited, breath held anxiously. A minute passed. The emergency sirens had stopped wailing. Finally one of the doors opened, and a blue-clad, red-helmeted figure limped out, blood spattered across his body suit. Breaths were let out in sighs of relief.
No one had the heart to clap.
No one fights alone.
Seven years later
My HUD noted several security cameras and a whopping twenty-four pressure-sensitive floor tiles in the hall to my right. The left-hand hall was populated mostly by invisible trip-lasers, with a pressure tile or two scattered throughout. I turned left, palming a smoke bomb with my gauntlet-glove hybrid and directing its output into the hall. The silvery, brushed metal material that made up most of the structures on this particular island was soon obscured by light gray smoke. The lasers, however, revealed themselves as the smoke wafted down the hallway.
The most difficult part of getting to the Captain wasn’t even bypassing all his paranoid security measures and the confusing architecture of the island complex – no, the hardest part by far had been finding out where he lived in the first place. As a galaxy-renowned former bounty hunter, Captain Falcon’s first line of defense against his many enemies was anonymity. That, and the fact that since the Bloody Tourney seven years before, he’d become a complete recluse, appearing in public only once – to present the trophy to the winner of the F-Zero Grand Prix six years ago.
Only after a diligent half a year spent tracking down half-baked conspiracy theories and whispered rumors had I narrowed my search to the southwestern corner of the largest continent on his home planet – logic and research narrowed it down further, until finally I had my destination: Port Town. More specifically, a string of supposedly deserted islands off the coast of the small city. Why you would put the word town in the name of a respectable-sized city I had no idea, but that wasn’t my concern.
I slipped between two roughly parallel lasers and somersaulted over a third, rolling to my feet at the end of the hallway. Easy peasy. Now all I had to do was hope this wasn’t just another dead end, like the first three islands had been.
It was no dead end.
I crouched down as the iconic blue racer rocketed past, the wind behind it still nearly knocking me back. The emerald green grass was flattened in a progressive wave that moved alongside the track, following the Captain’s vehicle. This track was old-fashioned blacktop – or at least it was styled to look like it. Gunmetal gray walls rose up around us, blocking everything below the clouds from sight.
How do walls this massive not show up on satellite imaging? It looked like the islands were completely empty.
Captain Falcon expertly piloted the Blue Falcon around the racetrack, hugging the inside and taking turns at impossible speeds. It was a humbling sight to see the Captain effortlessly devour a track that would have given most racers night sweats.
I walked over to a set of retracted bleachers about two hundred feet back from the track, climbing up to the only viable bench before sitting down. If the media was to be believed – and it almost never was – I was the first person to sit here in almost seven years.
The Blue Falcon twisted in midair and skidded to a sudden stop at the end of the track, throwing up a wave of sparks. Its internal gyroscope righted it a split-second later, and the brilliant blue vehicle hovered in place, motionless, as the Captain climbed out of the cockpit. My heart thumped straight through my chest and pounded against my reinforced body-suit. He touched down and tapped a brace around his left forearm. The Blue Falcon cruised off the track, floating into an underground garage. By the time the garage shut, the opening camouflaged by the grass, the Captain was almost halfway to the bleachers where I sat.
His tall, solid form made its way leisurely across the grass. I noticed the empty space next to his right hip, where, in the pictures and videos, his blaster had always rested. The deep blue-gray clothing that was half flight-suit, half body armour clung tightly to his well-defined muscles, outlining the decades he’d spent honing his body. The scarlet red helmet, topped with the iconic golden falcon, obscured his face from view. My mind stuttered as he approached.
He noticed me and instantly froze, eyes widening behind his visor. For a moment I felt like a rabbit who’d startled a lion by hopping into the middle of its den. Or, more appropriately, a sparrow who’d accidentally landed in the middle of a falcon’s nest. He stared at me, face blank, while I tried to persuade my body to resume breathing.
Then he shook himself and continued past me, headed for the building I’d exited mere minutes earlier. I hopped off the bleachers and hurried after him.
“Captain Falcon!” I called in what I hoped was a confident tone of my altered robotic voice, walking up beside him. He turned to me, and I had to suppress my instincts, which told me to put more than another few feet of space between myself and that unyielding gaze. But he didn’t say anything, so I steeled myself and continued.
“Captain, I want you to sponsor me for the Smash Brothers Qualifiers.”
He turned away from me, and still didn’t respond. I had to jog to keep up with his ridiculously long stride, and after all the infiltrating and whatnot, I was already a little short of breath. I hid it as best I could.
“I know you’re not sponsoring a newcomer yet,” I said, again modifying the way my helmet conveyed my voice. I couldn’t afford to sound nervous or tired; I would only get one shot at this. Also, I couldn’t quite remember if robots ever sounded tired. “Eight of the original Brothers are already training fighters for the Qualifiers, and there’s only one week left to register a newcomer. I need you to sponsor me.”
We approached the building entrance, and the Captain reached for the keypad to enter the code. He paused when he noticed that the access light was already green, and turned to me for the second time in as many minutes. Then he opened the door and stepped through, not saying a word.
This was not going well. I needed to get him talking if I wanted to convince him.
“Why don’t you want to sponsor a newcomer?”
Our footsteps echoed off the featureless gray walls as we headed deeper into the building. I wondered whether I would be able to find my way out if the Captain told me to leave.
“I’m retired,” he said mutely yet firmly, hands curling into fists at his sides. My eyes strayed to the gold brace on his right leg, stretching from mid-calf to a few inches above his knee.
“I’m not asking you to fight,” I replied with equal firmness. “I’m asking you to train me – let me represent you in the tournament.”
At this, he gave a brief chuckle. “You’re about thirty years too early to be saying something like that. Represent me, heh. You’ve got nerve. I’ll give you that.”
His voice was softer than I’d expected, and not nearly as brash as he’d sounded in the Smash Brothers match recordings I’d seen. The word that came to mind was…tired? – but that wasn’t it, not exactly. He was more…humble. As if he’d been shown his own faults and weaknesses, been forced to acknowledge them. To accept them.
“What’s your thing?” he asked suddenly, looking at me out of the corner of his eye.
“Your fighting style. What makes you distinctive?” he said, gesturing with a gloved hand. “The Committee doesn’t let just anyone fight, even in the Qualifiers. Smash Brothers is the most prestigious fighting tournament there is, and it’s as much a spectator event as it is a personal competition. If you don’t stand out, you can’t compete.” He turned to me for the first time, and his piercing eyes, black from behind his blurred visor, locked onto mine. “So I’ll say it again. What’s your thing?”
I smiled behind my helmet’s screen. You see, most fighters who choose to fight with a weapon – and most fighters don’t – choose a sword. But, beyond just being straight-up cliché, swords are very limited in atypical fighting forms. They choose the sword because more complex weapons require more training, and are far more difficult to wield effectively. There is a point, however, where the graph depicting the relationship between the complexity of weapon and the difficulty of use, makes a little…detour. Where the weapon is so complex, it fights for you. And why have only one weapon, when you can have ten? Twenty? A hundred? Why have any limit at all?
Well, unless you’re me, there usually is a limit. Fortunately, I’m me.
I stretched my fingers inside the white gauntlets of my body-suit, and felt my palms tingle with energy. “My thing,” I said confidently, “is bombs.”
The Captain was quiet for a moment before asking, “Explosives?”
I nodded, making sure my helmet’s outer display wasn’t showing the massive grin my actual face was exercising. “Among other things. I utilize a wide variety of bombs,” I said, deciding not to clarify any further. If he actually agreed to train me, I would, of course, have to divulge the full extent of my fighting methods. Until then, I would gain little from parting with the details.
No, I berated myself. That type of thinking wouldn’t get the boldest fighter in the universe to accept me as his apprentice. That was the reasoning of a man expecting failure. I don’t do failure. At that moment, I promised myself I would not leave the building until Captain Falcon agreed to train me.
Ahead of me, the Captain reached a pair of automatic doors; they opened up soundlessly onto a sandy clearing outside.
Fine. I won’t leave the island until he agrees to train me.
I followed him out, preparing to explain the intricacies of my bombs, and what made me such a distinctive fighter.
Before I could, he nodded curtly to himself, and spoke. “If you go up against any of the founding Brothers in the Qualifiers, forfeit – there’s no point in showing all your tricks by going all out, and you won’t last long enough to gain any significant intel that you couldn’t already get by watching one of their many recorded matches.”
I frowned inside my helmet, making sure the outward display stayed neutral. Being underestimated by my opponents is perfectly fine – preferable, in most cases. But being underestimated by the very fighter whom I was trying to convince I was worth his time to train? Not in my best interests. Plus, I’d never really been one for taking the easy way out.
“No matter who I go up against, I’ll stand my ground,” I told him firmly.
The Captain pivoted and stared me down. “You’ll stand wherever the hell I tell you to stand if you want even the slightest chance of qualifying.”
Well that sounded promising. Also, terrifying. “Does that mean you’ll train me?”
He didn’t answer, only crossing his arms and continuing to look at me with those diamond-hard eyes of his. As was to be expected, he wasn’t the type of person to make such a decision without due consideration. I met his gaze as he drummed his fingers along his taut forearms, trying to read his expression behind the stylized, concealing racing helmet.
How many Smashers covered their faces, whether through helmets or masks? There was the Captain; the mysterious Sheik; Samus; Meta Knight-
I was brought out of my musings as the Captain uncrossed his arms, shifting his stance and placing his gloved hands on his hips. I tensed. This was it; if he decided to accept and train me, I was set – if not, I’d have to go search for another Brother to sponsor me into the Qualifiers. Fox McCloud was one of the fighters I’d considered, but he’d been gone on a mission for a while and no one knew when he’d be back. If worst came to worst, there was always Kirby…
No. I’d done my research, made my decision; with Fox and Samus unavailable, there were no other options. It had to be Captain Falcon.
“So?” I prompted, unable to bear the suspense. “What’s your answer?” I really shouldn’t have, but I was getting tired of him dodging the question, and prolonged silences made me uncomfortable. Can robots be uncomfortable? I should ask one, though the chances of finding another human-programmed AI between now and the Qualifiers would be slim.
He didn’t reply right away – of course – instead blinking slowly at me. Then he brought his hands up, settling into a relaxed fighting stance. From the slight squint of his eyes behind his helmet’s visor, I could tell he was smirking, even though only the smallest corner of his mouth had moved. He beckoned with a curl of his fingers, and declared his answer with four words I would remember for the rest of my life.
“Show me your moves.”